The Ida B. Wells Community Academy
1180 Slosson Street
Akron, Ohio 44320-2370
COUNTY: Summit IRN: 133553
Annual Report for 2003-2004
October 20, 2004
State and Federal Financial Resources
At the end of each fiscal year, usually in late September or October, the Academy is audited by the State Auditor’s Office. The Management letter resulting from FY 2003-2004 is in Appendix VIII. Moreover, at the end of each fiscal year, the Board of Governors approves the budget for the next fiscal that is prepared and presented by the Treasurer / Fiscal Officer. This budget will have been reviewed already by the Financial Affairs and Planning Committee and revised if necessary to meet the known and anticipated financial needs of the Academy. At this review meeting the critical mass of student recruits is determined and the number of faculty that would be required to service them. Since the budget is student head count driven, students are of primary importance to our overall operation. The Academy, therefore, devotes the major portion of its financial resources to those elements designed to produce value added intellectual growth in its student body. We are constantly adding supplemental materials that will help reinforce the lessons taught by the teachers.
Addressing Needed Improvements
One of the most significant priorities the Academy has is that of creating an educational environment in which all of our students are reading, writing, and comprehending at grade level. Another significant priority is the development of an educational process that takes into consideration the student development framework and findings of Rossi and Montgomery as referenced in “An Alternative Model of Student Performance” (see Appendix IX: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdReforms/chap5c.html ). This article was excerpted from the complete report found at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdReforms/index.html. For the students who are not at grade level, we concentrate as much attention as possible on the provision of opportunities to excel and to move on to higher levels of competency at their own rate. Unfortunately, rigid scheduling of the OPTs by the State obviates our ability to do this as well as we would like before our students take the battery of five tests. Our primary goal is, nevertheless, to meet each and every student where they are currently, both academically and socially, and take them to higher levels. We do this by setting goals and objectives for the students, parents, faculty and staff, and the Governing Board. Every aspect of the Academy must be functioning at an acceptable level of performance in order to create an educational environment that the students can achieve in. Therefore, new policies are implemented from time to time. We also prioritize our educational goal and objectives through the hiring of fully qualified faculty and staff. The criteria for hiring teachers become more and more strict each year as we look to employ those who can help create the educational environment desired and contribute to the overall learning process established at the Academy.
As mentioned elsewhere, the Program Management Advisor and the Chief Administrative Officer meet on a weekly basis to discuss the work objectives of past weeks and the current week, the academic programming issues that need attention and other equally important matters. Each year and sometimes earlier, the administration assesses the Academy on its different levels of operation -- finances, facility needs, staffing, student recruitment, and academic performance. This assessment process is initiated by the Financial Affairs and Planning Committee which usually develops multiple year program improvement timelines. These timelines provide the administrative leadership with an idea of the areas within the program that need to be improved and the length of time each improvement should take. Once an area has been identified as needing improvement, we then come together as groups (the Board, administration, faculty and staff) and brainstorm about various solutions that will strengthen the areas needing improvement. The end result is usually a plan of action to remedy the situation, or a set of objectives that need to be met in order to resolve the problem.
The Academy has experienced difficulty enrolling and retaining students as pointed out earlier in this report. Obviously we have had to respond to this problem because of its impact on our financial strength. Our response has been multifaceted. We directed our newly appointed Community Relations Coordinator to look into possible ways to augment the Academy’s standard recruitment practices. She proposed the renting of large bill board space in various sections of the city, particularly those areas from which we believe recruits will be attracted. She also suggested placing fliers on car windshields in parking lots in malls, movie theaters, churches, parks, etc. We contracted with PAX, a television channel viewed in the community, to tape and present a thirty second infomercial highlighting the Academy, its faculty, staff and educational programs. This infomercial air at various times during the day, primarily during the evening hours. As stated the Academy employed a number of methods to get our story told through out our catchment area. Appendix X displays several examples of these methods many of which made a real difference, however, not enough to alleviate our concern. Some of the methods used were designed to get students so excited about being useful to their school they would eagerly work hard to recruit their friends and playmates. The Academy is now working on alternative recruitment strategies designated as Incentive Builders.
We have also alluded to another issue that might be negatively affecting our ability to recruit and retain students. That issue is our year-round academic year. It has been brought to our attention that many of our students’ parents have to honor court custody rulings that award during the summer months custody of a child or children to another parent who may be living in another city or state, or who, for obvious loss-of-time-with-his-child-reasons, just doesn’t want to honor the child’s need to attend the Academy during the summer months. This presents us with an obvious dilemma; one that forces us to threaten grade reduction, retention or de-registration. Most often de-registration is the result. We believe our year-round educational program is based on sound pedagogical research. We are a member of NAYRE, the National Association for Year-Round Education and we have compiled a lengthy bibliography on year-round schools to better inform our Governors and administrative staff as well as provide professional development materials for our faculty and staff. We hope in the new academic year to engage a NAYRE “House Call” and have them provide ideas that will help us overcome this problem.
It has been recommended that the Academy hire a full-time person to handle the disciplining of students and the in-school suspension process. That recommendation is now in process. In-school suspensions, and suspensions / expulsions in general are resorted to when nothing else will seemingly work. We have gleaned from workshop attendance that the teachers came away with an understanding of how they could work better with troublesome students. But that certainly was not enough. Some faculty members, who were experiencing problems managing their classes, were asked to attend a workshops on classroom management. This academic year we will emphasize classroom management and the development of a reliable and effective discipline procedures.
The Central Role of Stakeholders and Partners
From the outset the Academy has worked with a variety of community organizations. For instance, to organize the Academy the two co-founders of the Academy worked with a team of 23 community residents and organizations to help develop a working plan for the establishment of an educational institution that would relate to the community's educational needs. The organizations to which some of these persons belonged were the Akron Public Schools, the African American Cultural Association, The University of Akron, Kent State University, the City of Akron’s Department of Community Development, Jamaica Mall, university students, community residents, attorneys, social workers, hospital staff, etc. Since 1998 we have added to this list religious organizations, community recreational and service centers, the Summit County Public Libraries -- the Wooster (now Vernon Odom Blvd) and the Maple Valley Branches, the Summit County Services Center and Urban League, and the Summit County Children Services.
Even though the Academy worked with these organizations, we have not considered them to be partners as such, for they have not been as integral as the Academy's partnership with the Ohio Charter Schools Association based in Columbus, the Association for Better Community Development, Inc., in Canton, NeoNet and MEO/SERRC in Cuyahoga Falls, and the Portage County Educational Service Center and other unaffiliated others in Akron, Cleveland, Lorain, and Canton.
Challenges Encountered and Overcome
The Academy has experienced many challenges. Two of these challenges concerned the development of proficient at risk students and the recruiting of the active participation of an Advisory Board composed of parents and other members of the community. The first challenge was handled in part by the hiring of a qualified cadre of faculty and staff (see pp. 4 and 5 above. The second was addressed with the creation of the full-time Community Relations Coordinator position. This person was assigned among other things to work with parents in their homes and to meet with community organization and business leaders to involve them as partners. These two assignments were incorporated into the community relations function of the Academy’s Advisory Board.
Over the years preceding this fiscal, the Academy drafted and submited funding proposals. Some of these proposals were funded, for example the $15,000 SchoolNet Technology Grant. Funding for the others were denied. This fiscal the Academy was fortunate to hire an individual with an MA in Non-profit Organizations who has had considerable experience as a grant writer. In addition to a grant writer we have also managed to add to our Board of Governors several individuals who will be instrumental in enhancing the Boards ability to meet the expectations of its stakeholders. We have now increased the number of seasoned academics on the Board from two to five (this number includes the recent installation of Dr. Bridgie A. Ford, a professor of Education at the University of Akron who will be installed in FY 2004-2005). We augmented our ability to better manage effectively our finances when Mr. Glenn A. Thompson, a CPA, joined the Board. We will enter the next academic year with 11 Board members.
Music, Physical Education and Art instructors have not been a regular part of the Academy’s curriculum. This year we did manage to hire an art and a music teacher. The plan is to retain a physical education instructor in 2004-2005. This year these instructors will teach in the elementary school. Next year, when the Academy offers both an elementary and middle school, these three instructors will teach on both campuses and offer a area of our curriculum that will afford our students with a long awaited curricular diversion.
We have been functioning in cramped programming space. In August 2002, we moved into the Mt. Olive Baptist Church facility (1180 Slosson Street) and brought our overcrowded existence to a temporary end. We gained much more space for all of our current educational activities, for we enjoyed programming space on the three -- 1st, 2nd and basement – floors of the church’s educational wing.
Although the Academy litigated the Akron Board of Education’s refusal to transport our students in 1999 and won, the Akron Board of Education continued to refuse to transport those students attending its extended 6-week summer session or fifth grading period until September 2004, when the Academy retained the law firm Slater, Zurz & Gilbert to reopen the matter. Shortly after having announced renewed litigation of the issue, the Akron City School District relented and agreed to transport our students; however, they steadfastly refused to relieve the Academy of the $19,000 busing expense we incurred during the June to July summer session.
The Academy has been concerned with keeping its students, faculty and staff safe. We have as a consequence employed various methods over the years to maintain a safe learning and working environment. This year the Academy’s Program Management Advisor drafted a very comprehensive Crisis Management and Response Policy Manual for the Academy (see Appendix XI). This manual serves as an upgrade of the Academy’s earlier but less comprehensive “Fire, Tornado, and Emergency Safety Manual,” which is now to be widely distributed to faculty, staff, our host churches, and significant others. We installed at Mit. Olive a video camera and monitor with a buzzing device that allows the Academy's secretary to see the person(s) trying to gain access, and then let them enter with the push of a button. All visitors are granted access and are instructed to come directly to the office where they must then sign in and wear a badge. If a person is found in the hallways without a badge, he / she is questioned by staff to discover who they are and why they are in the learning center. If their presence is legitimate, they are directed to their destination.
The students' whereabouts are constantly monitored by the teachers and hall passes from the teacher are required for every student leaving the room. The hall passes note on them the destination of the student -- an administrator's office, restroom, another classroom, or Special Education Office. All classrooms have placed in a conspicuous location near the door the escape route from the building in case of fire and the safe collection place in case of a tornado alert. The Academy has on occasion invited the Akron Fire Department to conduct a Fire Safety Program for students. The Akron Police Department has also introduced students to its D.A.R.E program to inform them of their need to say “No” to drugs.
Since we view ourselves as Institution Builders and our faculty and staff as partners in that enterprise, we try to impress on all members of our learning team -- Board members, administrative and support staff, faculty and parents -- that as the Academy grows so, too, grows their professional and future careers and the quality of the education their students receive. Of especial importance is the Academy's bold intention to help reform the schooling process in the United States. Our intention does not in any way involve putting the nation's public or private school systems, for that matter, out of business, for that would be counterproductive. We take our lead from Buckminster Fuller who advised: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Our intention, if we can become good enough, is to become in time a “new model,” a laboratory school. A school that is an aider and abettor for introducing, developing methodologies for the education of African American and other under-represented youth who are “at risk” in the nation’s schools.
The Academy's requirement that there be infused into curricular designs African and African American history and culture presents us with another real challenge. This challenge was addressed earlier on so we won't reiterate it here. Another challenge for the Academy is coming up with an effective method for inducing African American parents to take charge of the education of their children receive. The Academy has, of course, benefitted from parents' exercising their right to choose where and who will educate their children. We have, however, found it difficult to engage a critical mass of these parents in meaningful ways on meaningful tasks. We envisioned at the outset having a coterie of parents and others participating in the management of the Academy through its Advisory Board or Site-Based Management Council. The proposed workings of the Advisory Board are outlined in the Academy's ODE contract. Its structure has undergone some operational modifications made to strengthen how it is to function. It was felt the Advisory Board should have the Board assume, as was originally thought, the oversight of the Advisory Board's program on a day to day basis. To that end we revised the position of an Assistant Teacher making her the Academy's Community Relations Coordinator whose duties included working with parents and other community residents emphasizing the building of firm relationships. This initially worked, but there was no consistency in the involvement of those who joined. In spite of this. we have increased out efforts in this area. With the installation of two community representatives on the Board, there has been created an Advisory Board standing committee which these two Governors will co-chair.
Another challenge for the Academy is coming up with an appropriate discipline system. During 2003 and 2004 we suspended students 37+ times and these students lost approximately 111 class days.. In a survey of faculty, many said the Academy should be more strict in disciplining students and holding their parents responsible. In our contract we stated we would develop an innovative discipline procedure. Correcting the problem was, is a huge undertaking. Suspending and expelling students is, in the Founder’s view, counterproductive in that it was a zero sum game. Removing students from their classes has consequences the Academy cannot afford, that is, the students we are committed to educate lose precious and scarce learning time; and parents as a result of the suspension may withdraw the student, and the Academy suffers. Our Founder’s position in this matter is our students need to be in school not at home where no learning activity will be conducted. Moreover, suspensions would ultimately damage our relations with the community we serve. In “Catalyst for Cleveland Schools” (June / July 2003), it was reported (pp. 16-17) that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) suspended in 2002 some 15,000 students which was down from 18,000 the previous year. In order to meet the AYP attendance goal in spite of the suspensions, Cleveland, with state approval, listed the students as present because suspended students are sent home with the school work they will miss during their suspension. This is a travesty of no minor proportions. CMSD enrolls 50,902 African American students out of a total of 71,671 students. It is obvious that the majority of the students suspended are African American. Is it any wonder than that only 39 percent of Cleveland’s 50,902 African American students graduate? We must not follow Cleveland’s lead and come up with our own well thought out policies and methodologies that keep even those students resistant to learning IN a positive learning environment and not on the OUTSIDE learning nothing at all.
Finally, We were correct in 1999 proposing that we would develop a discipline process that would be student and learning centered, but, in order to set up a meaningful process, we need to better inform ourselves. Fortunately, we had already decided to use the Rossi-Montgomery "Conceptual Framework" and their work on school reform as a guide. From our reading we also learned that discipline was a problem throughout the state and the nation. We also learned there were no sure shot methods we can borrow and employ. Our first internal corrective action was to receive from teachers first hand information on the in-class nature of the problem. Their suggestions on how best to handle the situation was in-school suspension as the best alternative to sending students home for one, two, or three days or more in some worse case scenarios. But that, too, is not enough. It means hiring more staff and acquiring additional programming space. Both of these suggestions mean an additional outlay of funds which we do not now have. With that the circle has again been joined.
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The Academy's Address is
Ida B. Wells Community
1180 Slosson Street
Akron, Ohio 44320-2730
Phone: 330.867.1085 FAX: 330.867.1074
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